By now it is common to hear of people trying to cope and/or pass blame after tragedies in absurd ways. This time, however, we seem to have someone actually trying to speak reason in response.
More harm than good
Christopher J. Ferguson is the chair of Texas A&M University’s department of psychology and communication. He has written dozens of research papers analyzing and discussing studies conducted on the effects of media on children, so he has some background in addressing the topic that SouthingtonSOS claims. Specifically,
there is ample evidence that violent video games, along with violent media of all kinds, including TV and Movies portraying story after story showing a continuous stream of violence and killing, has contributed to increasing aggressiveness, fear, anxiety and is desensitizing our children to acts of violence including bullying.
This statement comes off as being self-contradictory since it follows after insisting that the group has no intention of claiming that violent media was responsible for the Sandy Hook tragedy.
As a scientist, when we see that someone is saying something that isn’t scientifically true, ethically we’re supposed to take some time to try and speak with them and point that out to them
He emailed the group a letter detailing, respectfully, how mistaken their words were. He also sent them several examples of studies whose findings contradicted the claim, and offered that he could send more if they wished.
As he pointed out, it is dangerous to try and pin blame for things where that blame does not belong. “It’s classic moral panic,”
Ferguson says this is not a new phenomenon. While most of us can agree we’ve heard of similar buck-passing in the past, he goes back farther than most of us now can remember. He pointed out the reaction in the 50s to comic books, when psychiatrists were going to Congress to explain how comics were causing all kinds of societal woes (like homosexuality).
While it seems embarrassing and silly, it is even more embarrassing and silly that the same mistakes are still being made simply because the media format is newer. Ferguson’s concern is that spectacles like the SouthingtonSOS bonfire will distract from the actual causes of these sorts of tragedies.
I do worry this is going to represent a step backwards in our understanding of youth violence, rather than a step forward
We need more people willing to step forward and share knowledge in the face of reflexive fear.